Earth Etude for Elul 6 – Once Upon a Time I Had a Garden

by Rabbi Peg Kershenbaum~

Once upon a time I had a garden. I must have been inspired by reading The Good Earth to plunge a spade into the unyielding, aptly named, Rockland soil. But, after moving rocks, boulders and many less natural obstacles, I protected the small plot and planted tomatoes, cucumbers, Brussels sprouts and 5 slender corn seedlings. As the spring turned to summer and blossoms turned to the beginnings of identifiable vegetables, I realized that I was going to share the bounty with a pudgy and persistent woodchuck, some opportunistic rabbits, ravening squirrels and brazen crows. This was the year before the deer.

One day, in the breezy part of the afternoon, as the old story goes, I was working in the garden, trying to replace the cucumber’s chewed-off leaves with paper plates so the little plants wouldn’t die of sunstroke. I jumped to hear a shush-shush behind me. A snake? An intrepid rabbit? I turned in every direction but saw nothing. The sound came again! I turned to face the corn stalks, now healthy and about 4 feet tall. Again the sound, but this time I saw its source: the corn was growing before my eyes, calling attention to its progress with the merest of sighs! Corn talks.

The other vegetables remained silent, but the cucumbers definitely responded to my efforts to save them. I’m not a very good gardener, but I am tenderhearted. I was moved by the quiet conversation. Nature responded tentatively to even my poor ministrations. How much the more would it respond to careful treatment? How much of a difference could be made by finding and supporting environmental organizations that really knew what they were doing and that inspired many individuals to join in the effort to care for gardens, forests, mountains, streams, the sky and the air!

I’d like to say that my thoughts led to action and that I spend my days and nights working to protect and improve the planet. No, I’m not an outdoors activist. I don’t even have a garden any more. But I listen more carefully to the natural world, give what I can give, conserve what I can, try to act responsibly and tread a bit more gently on this earth. My ears are attuned to environmentalists although their voices don’t whisper like the corn. My words bring their words to others in an encouraging way, I hope. My gratitude, like that of my long-ago cucumbers, is for those who work to save this earth and who inspire others to do what they can, too. And when the season turns to the end of garden harvesting and the New Year approaches, I remember the shush-shush of the corn, doing its best to grow in a difficult place. And I pray to be as determined as those stalks and as responsive as the cucumbers.

Peg Kershenbaum was ordained in 2008 by the Academy for Jewish Religion. She serves a small congregation of very dear people in Pocono Pines, PA.

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